By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — With an attention-getting blowout of a good Miami team, No. 24 North Carolina showed that it belongs in the upper-tier of the rugged ACC and that Deja Kelly is still one of the most dangerous scorers in the league.
No. 4 Louisville and Miami are the only conference teams to defeat No. 12 Georgia Tech. But the Hurricanes never had a chance against a UNC team that played well in all phases of an 85–38 victory Sunday at Carmichael Arena.
The Tar Heels (18–4, 8–4 ACC), wearing pink-trimmed uniforms for the Play for Kay game, scored the game’s first nine points and 24 consecutive points midway through the first half in a dominant performance against a Miami team (12–9, 5–6) that only lost to Louisville 69–66 on Tuesday.
“My guys just keep getting better,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “It’s fun to watch. I thought defensively we were strong on our own; we were best when we were together. There was really no one v one play. We handled their pressure really well by being aggressive and trusting one another.”
It was UNC’s second-largest ACC victory in program history, topped only by a 96–47 win over Wake Forest on Feb. 22, 2007. Carolina keeps piling on the good wins that make picking the best all-around effort tough. Throw this one in the conversation, along with the 71–46 win over Virginia Tech and the 78–62 victory at Duke.
Banghart knows that the margin of error in the ACC is small on many nights and wins don’t come without focus.
“With good teams, you have to kind of inspire them,” Banghart said. “But with great teams, they’re kind of inner-driven, and this group is inner-driven. I don’t do a lot of rah rah and trying to inspire them. I can just coach them and show them the weaknesses of the other team and where our strengths are. They have this inner-competitiveness.”
Kennedy Todd-Williams, who scored a career-high 16 points with her seventh consecutive double-figure scoring game, said the Tar Heels knew what Miami had done this season. That didn’t seem to concern them.
“It’s a mentality thing,” said Todd-Williams, who had no turnovers. “It’s cool looking at other scores. But we’re focused on our game, and what we needed to do. We just came out punching from the beginning.”
Miami had won six of the previous seven meetings, including a two-game sweep last season. But the Hurricanes, whose previous worst loss this season came by 13 points, didn’t see this kind of defense from Carolina in recent years.
“Every game, that’s what gets us going, that’s what gets us transition looks, that’s what gets us open threes,” Kelly said of UNC’s defense. “Us getting stops in a row, that messes with our opponent and they end up shooting bad and it just stacks up. We really take pride in our defense. I think we’ve been really consistent on that end, and we plan on continuing to do so.”
For the 12th time this season and the sixth time in ACC play, an opponent had more turnovers (18) than field goals (15). Carolina again was unselfish on offense with 14 of 28 field goals assisted.
“I think we just had a really good mentality going into this game,” Kelly said. “They beat us twice last year, which we weren’t OK with. Just knowing that they were going to be a physical, aggressive team, we were ready to throw the first punch and we did that.”
Kelly scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the second quarter to quash her shooting slump that she started to escape in Thursday’s 78–69 victory at Wake Forest. Kelly scored four 3-pointers in 84 seconds late in the first half.
“It felt really good to see the ball finally go on in the basket,” said Kelly, who had five rebounds and a team-high five assists. “I wasn’t too worried. I just stayed in the gym. I knew that my shot would fall eventually. So, today it did and it’s all pretty good.”
Kelly, who was putting up shots in a nearly empty gym after the home loss to State, said that it was all about the fundamentals as she tried to regain her shooting stroke.
“Just really focusing on the details of my shot, my mid-range, my 3 and just tightening that up,” Kelly said. “Because I knew that it was very small fixes that had to be made to get the ball in the basket. Just a mental thing as well, not letting me having a bad shooting night get to me because I knew that I’ve been pretty consistent all season.”
Banghart wasn’t worried when Kelly’s shots weren’t falling in recent games.
“I think that was great that so many people were able to have her back when she didn’t shoot well and she’ll have their back in other moments,” Banghart said. “She’s got that pure stroke that it doesn’t deviate much from the rim. It usually goes right through the net. It’s fun to watch.”
Offensive consistency, which Alyssa Ustby has given the Tar Heels all season (11 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two assists for her ninth double-double of the season), is also now coming from Todd-Williams.
“The kid just keeps getting better and better and she puts the work in,” Banghart said of Todd-Williams. “She plays one-on-one with our practice guys every day after practice and I have to kind of limit the time that she does that. She would literally do it all day. I think she’s playing with more confidence, I think, because she’s better. She was a freshman last year kind of learning the pace and her handle’s gotten better. She’s a better shooter now. Kennedy is a really gifted basketball player.”
The chemistry on the offensive end between Todd-Williams and her teammates just keeps getting better and that’s bad news for the rest of the ACC.
“Just having fun out there and not worrying about the little things and it’s coming to me and I’m able to find a way to contribute to this team,” Todd-Williams said. “They trusted me; I think that’s the biggest thing. They’re not hesitant passing me the ball or anything. They’re just very comfortable and feeling that as a player feels very good.”
Carolina made 20 of 21 free-throw attempts and has hit 57 of 70 (81%) in the last five games. UNC got 22 bench points with nine each from Eva Hodgson and Destiny Adams. Adams also had two blocks and a steal.
Some terrific interior passing to Anya Poole ignited a hot start as she scored all 10 of her points in the first quarter. Seven of UNC’s first nine points were off offensive rebounds, capped by Poole’s 3-point play on a put-back, in the first 2:11 of the game.
“We came out punching from the beginning,” Todd-Williams said. “I thought we played with a lot of good energy. I thought Anya did a really good job, and I’m very proud of her starting us off like that. Her and Alyssa and I, we’re all connected. It was a fun game to play. And we just keep going from here.”
The Tar Heels outscored Miami 28–2 in the first quarter, the fewest opponent points in a quarter this season after they allowed three to Charlotte in the first quarter and three to Appalachian State in the second quarter.
“We’ve got really good individual two-way players and then when they play really solid, connected defense, we’re tough to score on,” Banghart said. “That’s been remarkably consistent all year long. We take pride in stopping people and we did that really well in that first quarter, didn’t we?”
Miami didn’t match Poole’s point total until a layup by Kelsey Marshall, who led the Canes with 15 points, made it 39–10 with 3:37 left in the first half and UNC led 53–13 at halftime. This comes after holding Wake Forest to 15 first-half points on Thursday, and marked the third time this season the Tar Heels have held an opponent to 15 or fewer points in a half.
Just like in the blowout of the Deacons on Thursday, the Tar Heels hit some second-half lulls. Miami scored the first 10 points of the second half to trim its deficit to 30 points before 3-pointers by Ustby and Carlie Littlefield. Carolina only outscored Miami 15–13 in the fourth quarter.
Miami came a point away from matching its first-half point total in the third quarter and trailed 70–25 entering the final quarter.
The Tar Heels play consecutive home games for the first time since Dec. 30 and Jan. 2, with Pittsburgh coming to Carmichael at 6 p.m. Thursday (ESPN3). The Panthers (11–11, 2–9), who didn’t have a weekend game, have lost two consecutive games after a 54–39 home loss Thursday to Duke. That was the second time with that season-low point total after Pittsburgh lost at Louisville 81–39 on Jan. 6.
No. 24 UNC 85, Miami 38
UNC season statistics
day, time TV
|9||92–47 win, 1–0||Home||N.C. A&T|
|14||89–33 win, 2–0||Road||Charlotte|
|17||89–44 win, 3–0||Home||Appalachian State|
|21||79–46 win, 4–0||Road||TCU|
|26||72–59 win, 5–0||Bimini, Bahamas||X — VCU|
|27||58–37 win, 6–0||Bimini, Bahamas||X — Washington|
|December (6–0, 2–0 ACC)|
|1||82–76 win, 7–0||Road||Y — Minnesota|
|5||93–47 win, 8–0||Home||James Madison|
|12||107–46 win, 9–0||Home||UNC Asheville|
|19||76–63 win, 10–0, 1–0 ACC||Road||Boston College|
|21||83–47 win, 11–0||Home||Alabama State|
|30||79–43 win, 12–0, 2–0||Home||Syracuse|
|January (4–4, 4–4 ACC)|
|2||81–62 win, 13–0, 3–0 ACC||Home||Clemson|
|6||72–45 loss, 13–1, 3–1||Road||No. 3 N.C. State|
|9||71–46 win, 14–1, 4–1||Home||Virginia Tech|
|16||70–64 loss, 14–2, 4–2||Road||No. 20 Notre Dame|
|20||61–52 win, 15–2, 5–2||Home||Virginia|
|23||55–38 loss, 15–3, 5–3||Road||No. 14 Georgia Tech|
|27||78–62 win, 16–3, 6–3||Road||Duke|
|30||66–58 loss, 16–4, 6–4||Home||No. 3 N.C. State|
|February (2–0, 2–0 ACC)|
|3||78–59 win, 17–4, 7–4||Road||Wake Forest|
|6||85–38 win, 18–4, 8–4||Home||Miami|
|10||Thursday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Pittsburgh|
|13||Sunday, 1, ACCNX||Road||Virginia Tech|
|17||Thursday, 6, RSN||Home||No. 5 Louisville|
|20||Sunday, noon, RSN||Road||Florida State|
|24||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||Virginia|
|27||Sunday, TBA, ESPN2 or ACCN||Home||Duke|
Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications